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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans have expressed selective rage amid the rise of the Delta variant: They rail against the return of indoor masking but are far less vocal about vaccine requirements.

Why it matters: Masking may help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but the real solution to the pandemic is getting more Americans vaccinated. Increased support for that — including the use of heavier-handed methods like mandates — will only increase its chance of succeeding.

Driving the news: President Biden announced Thursday that federal employees and contractors will be asked to provide their vaccine status. Those who don't attest to being fully vaccinated will have to wear masks, social distance and undergo frequent testing.

  • The administration has been careful to frame the policy as a choice rather than an actual vaccine mandate, though the net effect is similar.
  • The announcement followed a slew of similar policies issued earlier this week by health care organizations, state governments, private businesses and even the VA.

Between the lines: The GOP's response to such vaccine requirements has been much more muted than its reaction to updated CDC masking guidance saying that even fully vaccinated people should resume wearing masks indoors in high-COVID areas.

  • "Every time the CDC releases new guidance, not only does it contradict information they’ve already released, but it punishes Americans who’ve already done everything they were asked to do," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday on the steps of the Capitol.
  • His remarks — made at a lectern bearing a sign that said "Country in Crisis" — didn't make mention of the new vaccine requirements.
  • While the federal government's policy hadn't yet been announced, it had been leaked to the media, and private employers like Google and Facebook had also announced their own mandates.

Yes, but: The governors in many red states have banned various forms of vaccine mandates, including from private businesses, government agencies and other employers.

  • And some federal lawmakers aren't happy with Biden's new policy.
  • "Vaccines mandates violate our rights to medical privacy and autonomy, and they are the start of a slippery slope toward excessive government control, bringing us closer and closer to mandated vaccine passports, school closures, and more draconian lockdowns," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a statement Thursday.

What they're saying: “All but the most fringey Republicans realize that vaccines are the biggest way out of this problem," said Brendan Buck, a senior aide to former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

  • "There’s certainly less agreement that masks are what is going to end the pandemic, and for that reason, they’re training their populist ire on masks more than vaccines."

What we're watching: For now, many vaccine requirements fall short of being mandates, although many private employers may not be able to afford to give workers a choice.

  • "Many in the private sector won't offer testing to accommodate those who don't want to get vaccinated. It's costly and logistically onerous," tweeted NYU professor Céline Gounder.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 10, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on what's working to get Americans vaccinated

On Friday, September 10, Axios health care reporter Caitlin Owens and health care editor Tina Reed hosted a virtual conversation on what strategies are working to get Americans vaccinated, featuring former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Ban.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb spoke about reducing vaccine hesitancy, an increase of COVID-19 cases in conjunction with the return to school, and how to ensure the effective distribution of booster shots when the time comes.

  • On why reducing hesitancy is more difficult in the later stages of vaccine rollout: “We’re at that point right now where every vaccine is harder to administer, because you’re probably trying to entice a consumer who is more reluctant to take the vaccine or finds it less accessible for a variety of reasons.”
  • On the recent rise in cases in younger populations returning to school: “Studies have looked at what are the most effective interventions—keeping kids in defined social pods within the school so you’re not having the entire grade commingling...and also implementing routine testing of asymptomatic children, ideally twice a week.”

Dr. Kevin Ban explained Walgreens’ decision to mandate vaccination for some employees, what has been working to increase vaccination, and the potential hurdles of administering booster shots.

  • On Walgreens’ thought process behind implementing an employee vaccine mandate: “Collectively as a group, we have followed the science since the beginning of this epidemic. And along with the effectiveness of these vaccines, we’ve noted the safety. And so collectively, as a leadership team, we thought that the right thing to do here was to, in fact, mandate vaccines.”
  • On the effectiveness of local outreach in vaccination efforts: “Meeting people where they are and listening to them and trying to understand what is it that’s preventing you, and then addressing that, is powerful. It’s hard to do across the country, but you can do it locally.”

In a final Why It Matters segment, Axios' Caitlin Owens and Tina Reed echoed similar curiosities about the impending rollout of booster shots, and raised the question of how the process may mirror or differ from that of the initial vaccine distribution.

Tune in next month for October's Vitals Check-Up.

Linh Ta, author of Des Moines
Sep 15, 2021 - News

Where Des Moines metro schools stand on masks after Iowa ban blocked

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Des Moines metro schools are relying on guidance from their boards for how they should move forward after Iowa's law banning mask mandates in schools was blocked by a federal judge.

Driving the news: The judge's temporary restraining order issued Monday means schools can decide for themselves once again if they want to require students and staff to wear masks.

  • Gov. Kim Reynolds condemned the decision, saying it ignores parental choice.

Biden plots private help for refugee crisis

President Biden tours the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Arvada, Colorado, on Tuesday. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration plans to unveil a private refugee sponsorship program next year, allowing private organizations and groups to financially support refugees — including Afghans.

Why it matters: U.S. companies and individuals have already expressed an eagerness to donate, volunteer and help rescue vulnerable Afghans. The administration's new plan will build on that, creating a whole new way for Americans to help address a burgeoning refugee crisis, Axios has learned.